So, too, did Ben Roethlisberger for a while Sunday night.
Roethlisberger and Manning went toe-to-toe with their no-huddle offenses working like they were in mid-season form, but one late interception turned things around and Manning’s debut with the Denver Broncos was a 31-19 success against the Steelers.
Each quarterback threw two touchdown passes, threw in the mid-250s for yardage and led their offenses on long scoring drives.
Near the end, Roethlisberger had a chance to pull this one out. Trailing by six points with under three minutes to go, he completed a 19-yard pass to Emmanuel Sanders to the Steelers 39.
Two plays later, Roethlisberger tried to go back to Sanders along the left sideline. Cornerback Tracy Porter cut in front to pick it off and return it 43 yards for a touchdown that decided things for good. It was the only interception against either quarterback.
“I should have called time out,” Roethlisberger said. “The play clock was running down, and I hate to burn time outs, but I should have because we were kind of all over the place.
“There’s no one to blame but myself. I already told my teammates and coaches, it’s my fault and it’s on me. That loss is squarely on my shoulders.”
Roethlisberger completed 22 of 40 for 245 yards and was sacked five times, three on a late, desperation possession.
Manning, after 14 years with Indianapolis, missed all last season following two neck surgeries. The Broncos traded for him, and he picked right back up in orange and blue what he did in blue and white. He was 19 of 26 for 253 yards and just two sacks.
“He’s a great player,” Denver coach John Fox said. “A lot’s been made of the injury and those types of things, but we’re just glad he’s on our team.”
Manning brought his team back after trailing at the half, 10-7 and again after trailing, 19-14, in the fourth quarter, after the Steelers seemingly had the ball forever.
Denver had the ball just 36 seconds in the third quarter.
“That was our intention in terms of how we worked,” Tomlin said. “We need to possess the ball, we needed to get stops and time of possession is just that.”
For every long scoring drive the Steelers produced Sunday night, Manning and his Broncos had an answer. The deciding one came midway through the fourth quarter.
Manning, directing the Broncos in the no-huddle offense the way he did so well with the Colts, took his offense 80 yards to score the go-ahead touchdown with 9:23 to go. He passed for 1 yard to Jacob Tamme for the touchdown, then passed for the 2-point conversion to Willis McGahee to give Denver a 22-19 lead.
In the third quarter, Manning hit Demaryius Thomas with a deja-vu 71-yard touchdown pass to give Denver a 14-13 lead. But the Steelers responded with another long, grinding, go-ahead drive that covered 80 yards and ended when, on third down, Roethlisberger hit Mike Wallace on a slant over the middle for a 3-yard touchdown pass. A pass for two points failed, and the Steelers led, 19-15.
“We had some pretty good plays out there,” Wallace said of an offense that clicked especially well from the middle of the second quarter until early in the fourth quarter.
That stretch included Roethlisberger’s 4-yard touchdown pass to Heath Miller with 28 seconds left to give the Steelers a 10-7 halftime lead.
The Steelers strung together a second consecutive long drive, this one to open the second half. It was not quite as successful, however, as the touchdown drive that ended the first half. This one lasted longer, covering 16 plays and nearly nine minutes, but ended with Shaun Suisham’s 35-yard field goal, his second.
The Steelers led, 13-7, with 6:05 to go in the third quarter.
“We kicked two field goals,” Miller said. “We could have scored touchdowns. We also had a couple of three-and-outs when they put together long drives.”
It did not take Denver long to get back on top, striking in a fashion similar to what the Broncos did in the playoffs in January. This time, though, it wasn’t Tim Tebow but Manning throwing to Thomas. He threw a quick screen to the left, Troy Polamalu got caught on a bad angle inside and Thomas sped 71 yards untouched for the score that made it 14-13. It took the Broncos 36 seconds to do it.
“I under-pursued,” Polamalu said. “I should have went over the block. I should have made a better decision for sure.”
The Steelers scored first in the second quarter to take a 3-0 lead. Antonio Brown ran back a punt 23 yards to Denver’s 38 to set up Suisham’s 21-yarder. That was bittersweet, though, for an offense that had a first down at the 3 and could not score as Roethlisberger threw three consecutive incomplete passes. On the last one, Miller was wide open behind the defense in the back left side of the end zone. Roethlisberger’s pass did not have quite enough loft to it and Porter jumped up and tipped it incomplete.
Manning then went to work, using the no-huddle Indianapolis style, for the first time. He moved them 80 yards on 12 plays. Seven of them were passes, and there was one big quarterback scramble. Manning, chased out of the pocket by linebacker Lawrence Timmons, ran to the right and gained 7 yards and a first down at the Steelers 34.
Knowshon Moreno scored from the 7, bouncing outside to his left after he was stopped on a run up the middle, to put Indianapolis in front, 7-3.
NOTE — Injuries to two starting offensive linemen may not be as serious as they first seemed. Tackle Marcus Gilbert left the game in the second quarter with what Tomlin said is a hyperextended knee. Guard Ramon Foster left with an eye injury.
Two quarterbacks, two debuts
How Ben Roethlisberger’s first game in Todd Haley’s new offense compared to Peyton Manning’s premiere with the Denver Broncos:
Roethlisberger: 22 completions, 40 attempts, 245 yards, 5 sacks, 2 TDs, 1 interception, 90.1 QB rating.
Manning: 19 completions, 26 attempts, 253 yards, 2 sacks, 2 TDs, 0 interceptions, 129.2 QB rating.